The Ultimate Build Guide For Your 2.0T GTI and Golf R - From Mild to Wild


You recently picked up a VW Volkswagen Golf GTI MK7 or maybe it was a Volkswagen Golf R. Rightfully so, from the moment you drove home from the dealership or previous owner’s driveway, you were stoked! And that’s 100% justified because Volkswagen Golf models of all variants are awesome cars. Meticulously engineered, superb bang for the buck, fun to drive, sporty, and good-looking, too…

The only problem is, if you’re like us, you'll have become bored with it after a few months. As sports car fanatics ourselves, we get it! It’s in our sports car DNA to tinker with our cars to make them even more fun. We pop the hood (or bonnet if you’re not a yankee), and we think, “What can I do and where do I start?”. It’s time to make your car uniquely YOURS.

For this article, we will break down how to transform your car with IE performance upgrades into five stages: stock, mild, heating up, getting hot, and WILD!

Graphic of tach with stock, mild, heating up, getting hot, wild

Note - As we proceed through the different levels from mild to wild, you should have already installed the performance upgrades mentioned in prior levels. Before you purchase anything, be sure to double-check the fitment tables for your year, make, and model. VW/Audi has the tendency to make changes often.

That said, let’s get down to Volkswagen Golf R and GTI build-related things. Ready? Set? Go!

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 1

Okay, so the stock Golf R engine may not actually be boring, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are bored with it. Car boredom also applies to the GTI, of course, or any car, for that matter.

So, where do you start? What’s next? First, let’s discuss where your car is sitting performance-wise in stock form.

The Volkswagen GTI and Golf R have similar engines based on the 2.0T Gen 3 TSI power plant. They are built on the modular MQB chassis and used on nearly countless VW and Audi models. MQB-based models include the A3, S3, A4, A5, GTI, Jetta GLI from 2019, Golf R, RS3 (yup, an RS3!), and even the humble 1.4L Jetta. That said, there are a few key differences between the Volkswagen GTI and Golf R. Here’s a quick summary:

MK7 GTI Tuning & Specs (From 2019, the Jetta GLI is similar)

  • Power: 220 horsepower at 4700 rpm, 258 Torque at 1500 rpm (varies slightly based on model year)
  • FWD/AWD: front-wheel drive
  • Curb weight (manual trans): 3 doors, 2972 lbs / 5 doors, 3031 lbs
  • Curb weight (DSG automatic trans): 3 doors, 3027 lbs / 5 doors 3086 lbs
  • Available in manual and DSG transmissions
  • Turbocharger: IHI IS20 turbocharger

MK7 Golf R Tuning and Specs

  • 315 horsepower at 5600 rpm, 295 torque at 2000 rpm
  • FWD/AWD: all-wheel drive (Haldex)
  • Curb weight - 3481 (Notice it’s quite a bit heavier than the GTI)
  • Doors: only available in 5 doors in the United States (3 doors available in other markets)
  • DSG automatic transmission only (no manual transmission in the United States)
  • Turbocharger: IHI IS38 turbo (larger than the GTI version)
  • More features and frills than the GTI
    MK7 Golf R

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 2

There’s a good chance this is your daily driver. You drive it to work and the gym and occasionally take the long way home through a scenic canyon. It’s fun, comfortable, and reliable. However, when you are headed out the door after work, you may need to blow off some steam by flooring it from the red light. It’s time to loosen your tie and take a drive. That’s where IE comes in!

Before we start installing performance parts, you should avoid any hassles and keep your car 50-state legal. In a nutshell, being 50-state legal means that you will meet your local emissions smog tests and any visual inspections.

Thankfully, IE has invested a lot of money for product certifications to make this possible for you. When you visit our website, you will notice that many of our products have CARB EO approval numbers. If a product is CARB-approved, it’s legal in all 50 states.

With that in mind, a few great IE mods that fit this mold are the IE cold air intake, turbo muffler delete, and Stage 1 ECU tune.

IE Cold air intake & turbo inlet pipe

MK7 IE cold air intake

The first mod for many car enthusiasts is an upgraded air intake.

A cold air intake lets your engine breathe better than the stock unit. It delivers cooler, and more air into the turbocharger. As a result, it will add up to 10 horsepower or more.

The addition of an IE Turbo Inlet Pipe will add about another 5-10hp. People also love the rip-roaring turbocharger noises unleashed when you uncork the intake tract.

Turn off the soundaktor* and listen to real engine noise!

*What’s a soundaktor?" A small speaker installed under the dash in many VW/Audi vehicles produces fake engine noise. Our recommendation is to remove it or disable it using a VAG COM cable and listen to the REAL sounds the engine makes.

IE Stage 1 Performance ECU Tune

Tuning the ECU (engine control unit) is the best bang for the buck, period. Dollar for dollar, it is the ultimate power upgrade. You’ll receive increases up to 97 horsepower and 95 ft-lb of torque.

Adding a stage 1 ECU tune will transform your car from stock into a canyon carving machine you’ll love. You can expect better drivability, more power, smoother power delivery, and better throttle response.

MK7 IE stage 1 ECU software

What does stage 1 mean?

We design Stage 1 tunes to operate with all stock hardware. The software can be used to run an IE Cold Air Intake, IE turbo muffler delete, and IE Turbo Inlet Pipe, but it’s not required. On many MQB cars, our stage 1 software is CARB legal for a hassle-free experience (see details on the product page for applicable years, makes, and models).

Installing the software is a breeze. Using the IE Powerlink flash tool, you can perform it in your driveway in about 45 minutes.

MK7 Carb approved

IE Stage 1 TCU Tune

Tuning the TCU (Transmission Control Unit) is just as easy at the ECU. The IE DSG Tune transforms the way the car drives and is the way it should have come from the factory! You can expect lightning-fast gear shifts, raised RPM shift points, and more aggressive launch control from a standstill.

Our high torque engine file also requires the TCU tune to remove torque limiters from the transmission and prevent clutch slippage. Going to a high-torque engine file fills in the powerband with huge amounts of torque.

MK7 IE Stage 1 TCU software

Exhaust Upgrades

At this stage in the modding journey, we recommend sticking with a performance catback that will add an aggressive exhaust note. This setup is usually the perfect volume for street cars. Track-only cars might add a high flow downpipe, upgrading to Stage 2. That will bring quite a bit more volume, so be ready.

MK7 IE catback exhaust

Suspension Upgrades

Lowering springs are often the first step in improving handling, looks, and overall road feel. In stock form, these cars feel a bit “squishy” and suffer from a good amount of body roll in the corners.

Being stiffer and lower will improve grip and make you feel more connected to the car. In addition to upgraded performance springs, a set of sway bars is a great upgrade. All sway bar upgrades will minimize body roll, but ours are tuned with a little extra stiffness in the back to promote turn-in and give a little more aggressive handling.

MK7 IE Suspension


This is a very simple one, so we won’t elaborate much. We all know one of the first things we do to our performance cars is add a set of nice aftermarket wheels. They look far better than stock and can also have some advantages, such as being lighter or allowing for wider tires for more grip.

A few noteworthy brands to check out are BBS, HRE, Enkei, and many more. Depending on how crazy you get, you can spend anywhere from $250 a wheel to $2500.

MK7 Golf R wheels

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 3

IE Stage 2 ECU Software

The next major upgrade is stage 2 ECU software. Upgrading to stage 2 will result in another large bump in horsepower and torque over stage 1.

The IE Stage 2 ECU Tune for a MK7 GTI, or a 2019-2023 Jetta GLI, using 93 octane gasoline, will yield 114 horsepower and 119 ft/lb torque over stock power levels!

Even more impressively, a MK7 Golf R will benefit from 146 horsepower and 176 torque compared to stock. That is a huge performance gain for a small amount of money.

Stage 2 software is generally for off-road use only. It may have a MIL / CEL for catalyst efficiency, and it will not pass road emissions testing. It truly is for race cars.

MK7 IE Stage 2 ECU software

IE High Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP)

Our TruFlex ethanol adaptive software versions on this platform specifically require a High-Pressure Fuel Pump Upgrade. You should only use an upgraded HPFP if the software explicitly requires it.


IE FDS Intercooler

Upgrading the stock intercooler is an essential part of any performance build. Without a sufficiently sized intercooler, you will be robbing yourself of a lot of horsepower (that you paid for with the ECU tune).

The stock intercooler is insufficient for the car even in its current form, especially in high-altitude, high-temperature environments. When pushed hard in the summer, the intake air temperatures get pretty high, reducing performance and efficiency.

When the stock intercooler cannot keep up, the ECU automatically reduces horsepower to protect the engine.

MK7 IE FDS intercooler

The IE FDS Intercooler outperforms the stock unit principally because:

It’s 137% larger, and the intercooler core is very high quality. A massive core like that significantly lowers intake air temperature and reduces the pressure lost as the air flows through the intercooler, letting the turbocharger work less hard.

Our innovative FDS intercooler technology makes better use of the intercooler size by equally distributing heat across the core. Competitors' intercoolers without the FDS system inefficiently utilize the intercooler core, resulting in less performance. The animation below illustrates that without FDS, air mainly flows across the bottom of the intercooler core.

Lastly, the installation is hassle-free. The IE FDS Intercooler uses all the factory mounting points and the stock intercooler hoses. The fit is perfect, and the installation process is as easy as possible. Upgraded hoses are available to make the most of the intercooler but are not required.

IE Cast Downpipe

To upgrade to stage 2 software, an IE Cast Downpipe is required. The high-flow catalyst and larger diameter piping of the IE Cast Downpipe allow the turbocharger to push a little bit harder, giving it more boost and, thus more power.

The IE Cast Downpipe is sold for off-road use only and is intended for drag strip or circuit track use. Driving with this product installed on the street is illegal and will not pass emissions.

MK7 IE cast downpipe

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 4

Are you ready to go really fast? We’re ready to help you bump it up another notch, so let’s do it! At this point, it's starting to get serious as we’re crossing into 400+ horsepower and torque levels. To do this, we’ll be using high-octane fuels, higher ethanol content, and larger turbos.

IE TrueFlex Fuel Harness

The IE TrueFlex harness uses an ethanol sensor and a custom wiring harness that feeds information from the ethanol sensor to the factory ECU. In conjunction with advanced re-engineering of the factory engine computer software, the ECU can read the fuel's ethanol content and dynamically adjust settings. Why does this matter?

Firstly, you can make more power as the amount of ethanol increases. Ethanol has a very high octane rating. It contains a large amount of oxygen molecules, and it greatly cools the cylinder as it evaporates. This combination is basically amazing for turbocharged engines. The result is tons of power.

Secondly, it removes the risk of incorrectly mixing fuels to achieve target ethanol blends. Without adjusting automatically, if you mix your ethanol blend incorrectly, critical engine failure can occur (Boom!). With iE TruFlex software, simply fill it up with either Ethanol or premium unleaded, and the car will take care of the rest.

Hybrid Turbos

What is a hybrid turbo? Hybrid turbo is a term that means the turbo drops into the factory location without any modifications. Sometimes, they are even made using the factory turbine housing and upgrading to larger internals. They are typically affordable and a great solution to add more power. Also, since they are drop-in, it’s much easier to install than more complicated turbo setups that may require more customizations.

One of the most common Hybrid turbos for the MK7 GTI and Golf R is the Garrett 2260 PowerMax. With this turbo and IE’s matching software, the horsepower levels jump to 450-485. With the IE True Flex harness and E85, you will make the most of this turbo and achieve the 485HP mark.

MK7 Garret 2260 turbo

Ultimate VW MK7 Build Guide Level 5

At this point, we’re ready to bust out the drag racing tires (potentially slicks or drag radials) and set some records. In this power realm, you will exceed 500 horsepower and torque. At these serious power levels, it is necessary to upgrade engine internals.

In most cases, these will be custom setups that need to be fabricated from the ground up. Unless you’re ready to spend some serious cash, it’s probably best to stay in what we referred to as “step 4—it's getting hot in here.”

One often overlooked area when building an engine from scratch is the cost of machine work and labor charges. We highly recommend that you research this thoroughly. If you decide to build your engine, you will need a couple of major upgrades.

IE MK7 Golf R Drag racing

Connecting Rods

One thing to know about IE is that we started as an engine parts company. It wasn’t until many years later that we developed our own software, intakes, intercooler and more!

Connecting rods were our first product at IE. You could say we know a thing or two about them. The two main types we offer are H-beam connecting rods and Tuscan I-beam connecting rods.

H-beam rods have an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. We rate ours at about 600 horsepower and torque. However, if you plan to exceed that mark, we recommend upgrading to our strongest connecting rod, the Tuscan I-beam.

These connecting rods are designed for engines producing up to 1000 horsepower and loads of torque. Many sets of these connecting rods have been used in world record-setting cars.

MK7 GTI IE Connecting rods


Our go-to piston recommendation for MQB cars is Mahle pistons. They are tough and have robust piston rings. Conveniently, they also utilize a low-expansion alloy that makes them great for street builds or crazy track builds.

They are available for stock bore size (82.5mm) and oversized bores (83mm). Remember that if you opt to use oversized pistons, you will also need to machine the cylinders for the larger size. Most people upgrade to oversized pistons if the stock cylinder bores are damaged.

MK7 GTI IE pistons

Valve Spring Kit

As RPM climbs, stock valve springs are not stiff enough to maintain positive control over the valves. Additionally, high back pressure exhaust may cause exhaust valves to “float,” another reason to upgrade. When building an “all-out” engine, definitely upgrade the valve springs. At a certain point, it becomes a requirement. However, that point can vary depending on several factors, such as boost levels and cylinder pressures.

We have great upgrades for most engines. In most applications, we use a special “ovate” wire, which reduces the spring's mass. We craft gorgeous Titanium spring retainers and, being experts at cam profile design, pick the spring rates perfectly for the application.

MK7 GTI IE Valve spring kit

Upgraded Valves

The stock valves are simply not up to the task at these power levels. Superior alloys withstand higher temperatures and will withstand pretty much everything you can throw at them. We typically recommend Supertech exhaust and intake valves, as they are great valves at a great price.

MK7 GTI IE valve kit

Contact us

We hope you found this information helpful and informative. Upgrading your car with performance parts can be complicated, depending on your experience. If you need more help, please reach out to our team of experts, and we will help you further.